'Da 5 Bloods' Preview: Spike Lee's film will be a rare look at Vietnam War in context of civil rights movement
The juxtaposition of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement in the 1960s is rarely explored in cinema. Films like ‘Apocalypse Now’ or ‘Full Metal Jacket’ or ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ don’t address it
Spike Lee’s upcoming feature ‘Da 5 Bloods’ is the story of four African-American war veterans, Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), who returned to Vietnam years after the war. Searching for the remains of their fallen Squad Leader (Chadwick Boseman) and the promise of buried treasure, these four, and Paul's concerned son David (Jonathan Majors), battle both man and nature.
Talking about ‘Da 5 Bloods’ in an interview with Vanity Fair, Lee spoke of the film’s politics: the cultural junction of the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.: “The United States Armed Forces came close to being torn apart when black soldiers heard that Dr. King was assassinated. They also heard that their brothers and sisters were tearing s**t up in over 100 cities across America. The tipping point came very close; the black soldiers were getting ready to set it off in Vietnam -- and not against the Vietcong either.”
Appropriately, the film’s trailer begins with a radio announcement made by the members of what looks like the Vietcong. The announcement, it seems, was intended for African-American soldiers in the U.S. Army, urging them to question why they were fighting a futile war for their oppressors.
While the movie jumps between the present and the war in the late-1960s, being a Spike Lee film, it is likely that both timelines will offer commentary on race. But it is the racial tension between black and white soldiers during that era is what makes for a good case study.
Aside from the fact that it has been widely reported how black soldiers were disproportionately assigned menial duties, denied promotions, unfairly targeted for punishment, and disproportionately assigned to combat units and killed in Vietnam, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, the New York Times noted, led to increased racial tensions within the troops. There were numerous reports of white soldiers hanging Confederate battle flags outside their barracks or wearing Ku Klux Klan robes in celebration. There were also several reported incidents of black and white soldiers caught in brawls in Vietnam.
The Vietcong, the Guardian reported, was also quick to exploit the racial conflicts within the troops. They reportedly dropped thousands of propaganda leaflets on the battlefields. Some of them bore authentic images of white policemen beating black civil rights workers.
Back at home as well, African-American leaders denounced the war in Vietnam. Malcolm X was one of the first to denounce the act. Before his assassination, Dr. King had said that the U.S. government was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”, and urged those against the draft to seek the status of conscientious objectors. Other black power groups like the Black Panthers and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee too had made their stance clear on condemning the war.
The juxtaposition of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement is rarely explored in cinema. Some of the most famous films focusing on the Vietnam War -- ‘Apocalypse Now’, or ‘Full Metal Jacket’, or ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ -- don’t address this at all. So, it will be interesting to see how Spike Lee manages to use this narrative. With Lee’s films, one has come to expect humor and commentary on race being juxtaposed against one another.
Whether or not one counts ‘Da 5 Bloods’ as a war film is of no consequence. Because we can be certain of one thing: It will more than likely make us imagine the Vietnam War in a very different way. Not at all like we are used to.
‘Da 5 Bloods’ will release on Netflix June 12.